“This is So Much [BS]”: FL Legislature, Local Officials Not Buying SoS Opposition to Online Registration

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[Image courtesy of hrexaminer]

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner – an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott – has had a rocky relationship with county election officials due to a series of disputes related to managing voter lists, early voting and evaluating local election performance.

If possible, that relationship got even worse yesterday when Detzner came to the State Capitol to oppose an online voter registration bill unanimously supported by local officials and overwhelmingly favored by state legislators. The Times-Herald’s Steve Bousquet has more:

Gov. Rick Scott’s top elections official came under intense criticism Wednesday for fighting the Legislature’s plan to allow people in Florida to register to vote online by 2017.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Scott appointee, appeared before House and Senate committees to oppose the idea, calling online registration a “flashing yellow light” fraught with security risks.

Twenty other states have already implemented online voter registration, four more are doing so and the idea has unanimous support from Florida’s 67 county election supervisors, who say it will save money and increase the pool of potential voters.

Legislators were not happy at all – with one key Senator not hiding (or censoring) his irritation:

Detzner did not testify before a House committee, which passed the online registration bill with only one dissenting vote. When he testified before a Senate panel, which approved it unanimously, the chairman blasted Detzner for “slow-walking” an idea that has overwhelming bipartisan support.

“You didn’t have to come today. You weren’t invited to come,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, glaring at Detzner. “I think the patience of the Legislature on this issue has been stretched.”

As Detzner ticked off the reasons why he believed the state could not implement online voter registration by 2017, Latvala can clearly be heard whispering, “This is so much bulls—,” according to the videotape of the hearing on the Florida Channel website.

County officials also hammered the Secretary for continuing to oppose the bill even after it was changed to address some initial concerns:

Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley heaped more criticism on Detzner, whose shaky relations with county supervisors may have worsened as a result of his opposition.

Supervisors said Detzner was silent on the issue for months and recently asked that online registration be delayed until after the 2016 presidential election. Legislators agreed to push back the date to October 2017, only to face more opposition from Scott’s administration.

“This might be a new low in a lack of credibility for the Department of State as it relates to this issue,” Corley said, calling Detzner “impotent” for erecting roadblocks that other states have implemented “seamlessly.”

“We’re supposed to be leading the nation in voting reforms, not be a laughingstock,” Corley said.

Corley criticized Detzner for stating his opposition in the House State Affairs Committee without giving lawmakers an explanation.

“You don’t have the courtesy to stand before the legislative branch as an appointee of the governor and say why you’re not in favor of it?” Corley said.

Detzner said his concerns are related to implementation of online registration, but a former state official dismissed those concerns – and legislators are suspicious of another potential reason for the administration’s opposition:

Detzner said he remains opposed to a date “hanging over our head” as the state enters a presidential election.

“I’m all about getting the job done, but getting it done right, and planning properly,” Detzner told senators.

Some lawmakers have speculated that the opposition relates to Scott’s interest in running for U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Nelson in 2018, but Detzner denied that was a factor.

Donald Palmer, a former director of Florida’s Division of Elections, worked to implement an online voter registration application system in Virginia in 2013 with a Republican governor and Legislature. similar to Florida’s situation. Palmer said it took six months and cost $120,000, and that Florida is far ahead of where Virginia was in its electronic voter database and driver license system.

“Online registration is more secure than a paper registration process,” Palmer said.

It also didn’t help that county officials learned that the state had made confidential information about voters available and then didn’t disclose the problem until much later. Bousquet again:

Elections officials … were livid to learn that Detzner released private data on more than 45,000 voters, including judges and police officers — and didn’t alert them immediately.

Detzner’s office acknowledged the security breach on so-called high-risk voters — who should have been exempt from disclosure — included judges, police, firefighters, prosecutors, public defenders, and crime victims and their family members, among others.

By law, those voters can choose to keep private information that’s generally public on the voter rolls, including birth dates, home and email addresses, party affiliations and phone numbers if provided.

“Their safety has been compromised,” said Polk County Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.

Detzner’s office said it gave the data to 15 individuals or groups that asked for copies of the statewide voter database, and cited a malfunction in automated software which it says has been fixed.

The Secretary of State quietly announced the problem on March 31 and posted a news release on the agency’s web site, but neither the news media nor election supervisors were notified.

The release said all 15 recipients of the data have been told to disregard, destroy and/or return the information while it seeks to notify the affected individuals. The state did not identify who obtained the information.

Detzner’s Secretary of State colleagues in other states have often played key roles in pushing for and enacting online voter registration. He may have unwittingly done the same in Tallahassee by giving legislators and county officials (who don’t always see eye to eye) a common foe. Moreover, if OVR is indeed enacted in Florida, you can bet that the state will be under what Doug Lewis calls the “electron microscope” when it comes to implementation.

In short, not a good day at the office for Detzner but likely a very good day for OVR in Florida.

Stay tuned – I bet it gets even more interesting very soon!

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